Educational Super Fad: Detailed Lesson Plans

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Do you write detailed lesson plans?

Planning is important, ask any manager. In fact, ask any manager that has been on a ‘course’ about ‘planning to succeed’. They will tell you that one of the 452 PowerPoint slides they were shown used the Benjamin Franklin gem, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Of course we need plans, especially when it comes to children’s learning as it gives us the structure and architecture.

We need lesson planning and we need lesson plans.

Long-term curriculum planning can give us an idea of the likely sequence of lessons we will follow; individual lesson plans can then support us further with a few details. But lesson plans don’t have to be mega-detailed. Some plans look like some sort of rocket launch for deep space exploration.

Planning is critical and is fundamental but some lesson plans are just planned to death. Some lesson plans are bordering on self-harm.

Are You Wearing A Vest?

Detailed lesson plans are just not needed but some managers insist upon them as some sort of false quality assurance paper chase exercise. They even stipulated that lesson plans had to wear a VEST:

V –  a VARIETY of activities to cater for all learning styles (now widely discredited)

E –  ENGAGEMENT for all pupils

S –  opportunities for SOCIABLE learning

T – TRANSFORMATION of information into a new form maximises learning

Not that long ago, tortured teachers with zero work-life balance were required to write very detailed lesson plans (2-3 A4 pages) for every lesson and then ‘submit’ them to their Senior leaders and/or inspectors for lesson observations. There are still some hapless souls spending their Sundays writing plans for out of touch senior managers with OCD; they won’t even be in the lesson!

The Department for Education’s Reducing teacher workload: Planning and Resources Group report identified planning a sequence of lessons as more important than writing individual lesson plans. Their summary couldn’t be any clearer:

“Creating detailed plans can become a ‘box-ticking’ exercise and create unnecessary workload for teachers, taking time away from the real business of planning, whilst offering ‘false comfort’ of purpose. These burdensome and unhelpful practices have arisen due to the real and perceived demands made by Government and Ofsted, and how school leaders and teachers have reacted to them.”

Out With The Ark

No senior manager should be asking for detailed lesson plans; not unless they want their staff to be taking extended sick leave that is.

Detailed lesson plans are a monster burden. If there is any expectation that these plans serve any useful purpose then challenge your senior managers. How can you plan for a lesson when learning and understanding is so messy, unpredictable and ‘organic’. As David Didau says in his blog, “Learning does not follow a neat, linear trajectory, it’s liminal.”

Our very own Ross McGill challenged OfSTED guidance in November 2017 and ‘detailed lesson plans’ were no longer required for trainee teachers when being observed (May 2018). Hurrah!

Learning pays no attention to a lesson plan. The ‘weather conditions’ mean you have to change course regularly unless you stick to the bullet-points of a detailed lesson plan which will take you into the eye of the storm. A quality lesson does not translate as a detailed lesson. A quality lesson is formative in nature and responsive to learning needs.

Some say that with experience lesson plans aren’t really needed at all and so can be “wholly improvised and tailored to the specific needs of students as the lesson unfolds” (Clarke, 2015).

If you are still submitting detailed lesson plans then don’t accept this as being normal, okay or anything approaching ‘best practice’. It is archaic and old-school.

What other fads have you wasted your time on? Read 20 Years of Educational Fads to find out.

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